French Kiss

The City of Light shines brighter than ever this year, illuminating La Seine — as Parisians lovingly call the river that courses through their city’s heart — as France marks a series of magnificent milestones. The Seine itself is the first stage of Paris’ Olympics celebrations, as boats parade international athletes to Trocadero for the XXXIII Olympiad opening ceremonies. Away from Paris, villages near the Seine’s flow to the English Channel locally commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day (June 6, 1944) with observances culminating at Normandy’s beaches. Since the Seine lured France’s beloved Impressionists to poise easels along its scenic shores, the country is marking the 150th anniversary of Impressionism with curated exhibits and festivals at riverside sites from Paris to Rouen. For all the festivities, this is a brilliant year to romance the beauty of La Seine on a Viking cruise from Paris to the heart of Normandy and back. 

Parisian Origins

Paris itself is an architectural masterpiece that exudes romantic allure in historic arrondissements from the UNESCO World Heritage community banking the Seine to Place Vendome, Place de la Concorde, Montmartre, Le Marais’ Place des Vosges, and the intimate byways of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Paris is a stellar hub for Viking’s four 168-passenger longships which have exclusive berthing privileges at Port de Grenelle — a short walk from the Eiffel Tower — and include two overnights at this central locale. Still, it’s worth arriving a couple of days early to stroll the city, cross iconic bridges inevitably dotted with couples lingering in fond embrace, see Impressionists’ paintings of scenes you’re destined to recognize on the Seine River cruise, and relax at a café to imbibe the Parisian joie de vivre.

For art lovers, Le Louvre and Musée d’Orsay showcase the evolution of Impressionism with early works by Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Morisot, Pissarro, Cezanne, and Monet among others who honed their metiérs by painting the elusive, changing light of rural and coastal France. Their first collective showing in 1874 was critically trashed by Paris’ Royal Academy, which preferred classical studio paintings to gauzy images of landscapes and towns impacted by the burgeoning Industrial Revolution, or scenes of ordinary people living daily lives. 

Paris River Cruise

A leisurely walk from Le Louvre through Tuileries Gardens leads to L’Orangerie, home of Monet’s brilliant Les Nymphéas (Water Lilies) cycle, painted at his Giverny estate. For Viking passengers like me, the line’s included visit to Giverny was motivation enough to book this cruise. Others were keen to visit Normandy’s historic beaches.

After embarking Viking Skaga, Captain Pascal Eschbach explained that the Seine — its name meaning “snake” — is France’s second-longest river. Starting at the edge of Burgundy, it flows northwest through Paris, snaking its way through Normandy to the city of Rouen before reaching the English Channel at Le Havre. 

That first night, as passengers gathered on the top deck for Champagne toasts to a joyous journey, I felt the beguiling aura of La Seine, its waters shimmering as the Eiffel Tower sparkled against indigo skies. 

Light in the Countryside

Early next morning, after Skaga docked at the historic village of La Roche-Guyon, I climbed to the platform where.… 

By  Toby Saltzman


This is an excerpt from the latest issue of Porthole Cruise and Travel Magazine. To continue reading, click above for a digital or print subscription.

Toby Saltzman has followed her heart to pursue her passions for culture, art, history, and nature as a travel writer. Winner of many awards — including two Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism awards — Toby seeks out the joy of a place and the soul of the local people, whether trekking through Patagonia, touring vineyards in New Zealand, visiting hilltop villages in Europe, cruising to far flung pockets of the world, or embracing the beauty of her home country, Canada.